June is Men’s Health Month. A time for acknowledging that men’s health issues are often overlooked and encouraging society to destigmatize men seeking help for mental health conditions.
Although no individual is free from exposure to stress, a published study showed that hormonal differences may alter how individuals manage stress. When stressed, hormones cortisol and epinephrine are released into the bloodstream. These are responsible for elevating blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and decreasing the effectiveness of the immune system. Oxytocin is another released hormone, which promotes nurturing and relaxing emotions. The study showed that women may release higher levels of oxytocin, therefore they are more likely to nurture themselves when under stress. Men, however, produced lower levels of oxytocin, which may result in suppressing stress or seeking avenues to escape the problem altogether.
Hormonal results of stress may lead to chronic health problems, especially when early symptoms are ignored and not enough emphasis is placed on managing the contributing factors to stress. While acute stress may improve functioning and immune health, chronic or repeated stress can lead to exacerbating mental illnesses and/or suppressing the immune response to bacterial and viral infections, vaccinations, and cancer.
Finding stress-relieving activities may be beneficial. However, lifestyle changes that promote uninterrupted sleep, healthy eating and digestion as well as reduce pain, anxiety, and depression may be keys to preventing chronic stress and the ailments that follow.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a key regulator of stress response, critical to assist our bodies in returning to a non-stressed state. The ECS limits the magnitude of the stress response, helps to return the HPA axis to non-stressed levels, and facilitates habituation of the stress response where repeated or ongoing.The interaction of plant-based cannabinoids and our ECS makes cannabis a likely candidate for alleviating the symptoms of many health conditions, to include stress. In fact, cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years in various societies around the world to reduce the physiological and psychological consequences of stress and fear.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and Stress
The first clinical evidence that CBD reduces the stress response was from the studies of CBD’s ability to reduce the adverse effects of THC in healthy volunteers.
In 2021, a study reviewed eight clinical trials (seven controlled and one partially controlled) of CBD for stress. The eight trials had a combined total of 352 participants. All showed that CBD was highly effective in significantly reducing the stress response and was non-inferior to pharmaceuticals, when used for comparison.
CBD works with cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid receptors. For example, even at low doses, CBD has been shown to block stress-induced changes in the 5-HT1A receptor gene expression that reduced anxiety associated with the stress-response.
CBD, as well as additional cannabinoids, may be a large influence to major hormones that may affect our stress levels, including epinephrine and cortisol.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is released during periods of sudden or chronic stress that leads to “fight or flight” actions. While epinephrine is important for sending more blood to our brain and muscles, making us more alert and providing energy, too much can put us at risk for anxiety, depression, and heart complications. Therefore, finding ways to naturally control the overproduction of epinephrine is essential.
In 2001, researchers sought to understand the effects of cannabinoids on adrenaline secretion. It is well known that cannabinoids may promote cardiovascular homeostasis, so they carried out a study with rabbits to look more closely at how and why. It was found that due to the interaction of cannabinoids with the CB1 receptor, the cannabinoids used were able to lower the electrically evoked adrenaline release in the adrenal glands of the rabbits.
While this study did not look at commercially available products for adrenaline control, findings were important to support involvement of specific cannabinoid receptors in the decrease in plasma adrenaline concentration.
Along with releasing epinephrine during times of stress, cortisol also releases from the adrenal glands to keep us on high alert, further contributing to “fight or flight”. Cortisol also triggers the release of glucose from the liver for increased energy. While research on CBD and cortisol is its infancy, there have been several clinical trials and one partially controlled trial looking at CBD for stress. All showed that CBD was effective in significantly reducing the stress response and comparable to pharmaceuticals where included.
Not only may CBD be helpful in reducing stress-associated anxiety, but it may normalize abnormal stress responses. One study, looking to understand the effects of CBD on participants at high risk of developing psychosis who are found to have decreased levels of cortisol as a stress-response. The CBD treatment adjusted the abnormal cortisol response as well as reduced stress-associated increase in anxiety.
Frontline healthcare workers were looked to in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to investigate the safety and efficacy of CBD therapy in reducing emotional exhaustion and burnout. By day 14 of treatment, emotional exhaustion and symptoms of burnout were significantly reduced among the majority.
Studies confirm that a misalignment of the sleep-wake cycle has a negative impact on the stress system. There are a few discrepancies in studies when it comes to the relationship of sleep and cortisol, however unbalanced cortisol levels have been observed in individuals with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and many studies have shown increase in cortisol levels throughout a night of sleep deprivation and in the prolonged wakefulness of the following day.
Cannabis and Sleep
Needless to say, along with stress comes disrupted sleep. Cannabis Sativa is often used for improved sleep and relaxation, attributed to Indian hemp in the nineteenth century.
For starters, hemp seeds contain a vitamin B6 content that can trigger the conversion of our body’s tryptophan into serotonin, which can then be converted to melatonin.
CBD has been researched for its therapeutic potential for sleep disorders through limiting symptoms that may keep us awake at night but also may contribute to an increase in sleep duration and depth, as well as decrease in the anxiety responses induced by sleep disturbance.
In comparison to CBD, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has shown in studies as having an effect on mental and physical sedation, even in low amounts. THC also has positive therapeutic benefits that may lead to better sleep.
Cannabinoids CBD, THC, and cannabinol (CBN) have been lightly studied for their effects in balancing melatonin production. Cannabinoids are also being studied to better understand the complementary relationship they have with melatonin. Data published in 2022 suggest that a CBD-melatonin formula could be competitive with synthetic-hypnotic drugs (i.e. Ambien, Unisom). The antioxidant activity of melatonin that benefits the brain network coupled with the pain reduction and anti-anxiety effects of CBD promoted a balanced sensation of wellbeing during sleep.
Overall, Assessed data from a 2020 published observational study looking at various quality of life measures showed that adult cannabis users had greater sleep quality, shorter sleep latency, longer sleep duration, fewer sleep disturbances, and a significantly better sleep score compared with the control group.
Finding Support for Cannabinoid Therapy
As with any therapy, effective dosing varies widely by individual and condition. When looking to cannabis for medical conditions, we always recommend speaking with a healthcare professional. However, if you are in need of support while on your journey, the care team at Realm of Caring is here to help! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call at 719-347-5400 or chat at realmcaring.org.